#AskLav: Congressional 'too much?' No, Sir Nick

By Ryan LavnerJuly 3, 2014, 1:00 pm

Nick Faldo made a curious remark last weekend at Congressional. 

“It’s too much,” he said during the CBS broadcast as he watched the tournament leader’s score drift closer and closer to even par.

Too much?

The final-round scoring average at the Quicken Loans National was 73.720, nearly 1 ½ strokes higher than during the other three rounds, but players faced a triple whammy of toughness on Sunday: a sun-baked, dried-out course; thick, gnarly rough; and a major-championship venue. Of course scores were going to be higher.

Justin Rose finished at 4-under 280 and won in a playoff. It was the highest winning score in relation to par on the PGA Tour since Patrick Reed – coincidentally, the 54-hole leader at Congressional – won at Doral with a 4-under total.

So far, seven regular-season tournaments (nine, if you include both majors) have featured a winner who was single digits under par. Not surprisingly, many of those events were played on some of the Tour’s best courses – places like Torrey Pines and PGA National, Doral and Innisbrook, Colonial and Congressional. You know, tracks that present championship tests, where players arrive expecting nothing less.

On the other hand, 15 tournaments this season have had a winning score of at least 15 under par. Five of those were more than 20 under. Track meets.

Tough conditions often don’t translate to compelling television – save for those who enjoy schadenfreude – and that may, in fact, have been Faldo’s main gripe. 

But too much? No way.

These occasional grind-fests are a nice change of pace to the week-in, week-out birdie binges that so often come down to which player is putting the best. Congressional demanded strong play throughout the entire bag, especially with the long clubs. Sorry, Sir Nick, but major-caliber tests needn’t be reserved solely for majors. 

Now, the holiday edition of the #AskLav mailbag:

This man’s top 5:

1. Adam Scott

2. Henrik Stenson

3. Rory McIlroy

4. Martin Kaymer

5. Bubba Watson/Matt Kuchar

Look, it’s hard to find fault in what the OWGR has produced at the top of the world order. Scott has won four times since the 2013 Masters and Stenson has six top-7 finishes in his last seven starts. Despite his maddening inconsistency, Rory still belongs at the No. 3 spot. Before his MC at the Irish Open, he hadn’t finished outside the top 25 in a worldwide event since October (!). Kaymer has to be on everyone’s top-5 list based on what he’s done in the past two months, while, for me, it’s a coin flip between Bubba and Kooch for the No. 5 spot. Not listed: Patrick Reed, though it’s undeniable that he can play like a top-5 player, occasionally. 

The record is held by Lorena Ochoa, who earned more than $4.36 million in 2007 – incredibly, that was over $2.5 million more than No. 2 Suzann Pettersen. Don’t remember 2007? That was the year Ochoa won eight times, including the season-ending ADT Championship, a prize worth $1 million. Stacy Lewis has already won three times this season, and she has $1.881 million in earnings with three more majors to play. More than that, though, this is the first year of the Race to the CME Globe, which will award $1 million to the season-long champion. The CME Group Tour Championship will also have a $500,000 first-place prize. Not even halfway to Lorena’s record total, however, Stacy will need to be even more dominant in the second half of the season. Don’t put it past her. 

Well, believe it or not, it does require some research – recent performances, trends, track records, horses for courses, calculated risks for Groups 3 and 4, etc. Other times, it’s one or two hunches per year that really pay off. (After all, how else could Gary Williams justify taking Shawn Stefani last week in Group 4, after he had finished inside the top 40 only once in his last seven events?) After finishing second among Golf Channel experts a year ago, I’m not taking my $1.1 million lead lightly, though. There is a lot of golf left to be played.

It’s worth noting that each of the past four Open champions have played the week before at the Scottish Open, though each with varying degrees of success. Phil Mickelson went back-to-back, of course, but before him Ernie Els finished 32nd, Darren Clarke finished 66th and Louis Oosthuizen missed the cut. Those players would probably tell you that it’s crucial to play there, not just to get in some last-minute reps but also to get used to the time change, the conditions, the weather, the style of golf, everything. To be sure, playing the Scottish Open – this year it’s at Royal Aberdeen – is a far more productive way to spend the week before than playing, say, the John Deere. In recent years, at least, it’s been a winning formula.

Earlier this week on Twitter, I threw out that my pick for the Open was Henrik Stenson. The dude has six top-7s in his last seven starts, and few guys strike it as purely. After sending that tweet, Golf Channel colleague Ryan Burr replied that he was going further “outside the box” … and instead took the No. 10 player in the world, Jordan Spieth. Some sleeper! 

Anyway, here are a few of my guys to keep an eye on: Memorial winner Hideki Matsuyama will be dangerous, because, uh, he just does everything well; Brandt Snedeker has finished T-11 and T-3 in his last two Opens, and he’s finally back to playing the type of golf that we expect (21st or better in each of his last three starts); and, finally, going even deeper thanks to @MajorAlsPicks: Mikko Ilonen, who recently won the Irish Open, captured the British Amateur at Hoylake in 2000 and also finished 16th when the Open was last held there in ’06.  

On a boldness scale? About a 2. The kid – he turns 21 this month – is the 10th-ranked player in the world. Nothing he does surprises me anymore. Whether it will actually happen is another matter entirely. The competition is so much deeper now, and you’re talking about only a five-event window. That said, what excites me about Spieth and the upcoming Open is that he’s always been a terrific links player and a guy who thrives in the wind. He can rely on his creativity and his smarts at a major that doesn’t demand perfection on and around the greens. I’d look for him to force his way into contention at Hoylake, which is good, because he probably needs another in-the-hunt major experience before he’s ready to actually take one home.

As cool as it would be … um … no. His close call in 2009 not only crushed our major spirit but his as well. His final Open next year at St. Andrews will be yet another can’t-miss moment in an arena that has given us so many.

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Watch: Hahn slam-dunks ace on 11th hole

By Golf Channel DigitalJune 23, 2018, 7:20 pm

There are aces, and there are slam-dunk aces. No question which one this one by James Hahn on the 154-yard 11th hole was.

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Els' nephew Rebula wins Amateur Championship

By Golf Channel DigitalJune 23, 2018, 7:05 pm

Ernie Els is one proud uncle.

His nephew, Jovan Rebula, won the Amateur Championship on Saturday at Royal Aberdeen to become the first South African to capture the title since Bobby Cole in 1966.

Rebula, a junior at Auburn, will join his famous uncle in Carnoustie next month for The Open. He also will get invites to the 2019 Masters and the U.S. Open at Pebble Beach.

Rebula defeated Ireland's Robin Dawson, 3 and 2, in the 36-hole final.

"It’s unreal," Rebula said. "It’s really something that is hard to describe. I feel like many have been in this position before but it’s an unreal feeling. It hasn’t sunk in quite yet but hopefully tomorrow morning I can wake up and I will feel a little different."

Rebula received plenty of texts from Els throughout the week, and the encouragement paid off. Rebula opened a 1-up lead after 18 holes, and he extended his advantage by winning the 26th and 27th holes. He was 5 up with six to play before finally closing out Dawson on the 16th hole with an up-and-down from the bunker.

"It’s been a long week and especially today," Rebula said. "I should have finished maybe a couple of holes earlier, but it’s been awesome. A very tiring week. I’m standing here right now and there’s so much adrenaline pumping through me."

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Squirrel gets Rory's round off to a rocky start

By Will GrayJune 23, 2018, 6:42 pm

CROMWELL, Conn. – Rory McIlroy’s third round at the Travelers Championship got off to a peculiar start before he even hit a shot.

McIlroy had just been introduced on the first tee at TPC River Highlands and was ready to unload on his opening drive of the day when a squirrel ran across the tee box a few feet in front of him.

McIlroy stopped his swing and laughed it off, but the squirrel continued to linger for several seconds, criss-crossing from one side of the packed tee box to the other. And while this was no black cat, the pump-fake to start his round didn’t exactly help the Ulsterman.

McIlroy ultimately blocked his drive into the right rough after enduring his brief rodent delay en route to an opening bogey, and amid soft conditions at TPC River Highlands he played his first five holes in 2 over. McIlroy started the day at 7 under, three shots behind leader Brian Harman.

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Kaymer in six-way tie for BMW International lead

By Associated PressJune 23, 2018, 5:29 pm

PULHEIM, Germany - Danish golfer Lucas Bjerregaard shot a 5-under 67 to equal the week's lowest round for a six-way share of the lead after the third round of the BMW International Open on Saturday.

Bjerregaard had eight birdies, a double bogey and a bogey to finish on 5-under 211 - jumping 23 places and joining local favorites Martin Kaymer and Maximilian Kieffer, England's Chris Paisley and Aaron Rai, and Australia's Scott Hend at the top of the leaderboard.

Bjerregaard was fortunate to play before the wind picked up again later in the afternoon.

Full-field scores from the BMW International Open

Kaymer, the 2008 champion, delighted the home supporters with two birdies in his last three holes for a 71.

Finland's Mikko Korhonen and Chile's Nico Geyger were one shot off the lead after rounds of 69 and 73, respectively.

Defending champion Andres Romero equaled the week's best round (67) to be among a large group two shots off the lead going into Sunday, including three-time European Tour winner Andy Sullivan.

Romero is bidding to be the first player to retain the title.